“I’m pretty awesome, aren’t I, Mom?”
Clara says stuff like this all the time, and I’m always both amused and a bit taken aback by her utter self-confidence. To her four-year-old brain, there’s nothing she can’t do or be, and the simple acceptance that she is worthy, lovable, and amazing seems to be wired into her DNA.
Part of me loves her confidence, but I have a hard time simply enjoying it, because there is some little part of my brain that’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. After all, how many kids do we know who are able to carry that kind of nonchalant self-assurance through to adolescence?
And anyway, should we even be encouraging the kind of childish self-esteem Clara currently displays? Shouldn’t children be taught the value of service and humility? Is it really OK for them to think so highly of themselves?
There’s been a lot of criticism of the self-esteem movement lately and its alleged product, a generation of coddled kids who can’t think or make decisions for themselves. Is it even right to continue to praise kids when experts now seem to think praise is harmful?
Here’s the thing, though: I think we as parents need to make a distinction between offering up empty praise and doing everything for our kids – not good – and helping them to be resilient, capable kids who can feel proud of their own accomplishments – very good indeed.
In other words, feeling good about herself isn’t something I can make Clara do even if I wanted to, but it’s something I can help her equip herself to do – even when she’s entering the rougher seas of elementary school and, eventually (gulp) adolescence.
And in my experience, it’s the kids who have the strongest idea of their own self-worth – I’m not talking about showy confidence or arrogance, but a quiet belief that they are worthy and lovable and loved – that are also the kindest, most helpful and most humble.